December 25, Christmas Day, is reserved by Christians as the day they celebrate Jesus Christ's birth. There is no real indication that the Christian Messiah was actually born on that day, but it was decided long ago, and there it is. But little by little the reason for the season was crowded out; St. Nicholas came along and then morphed into Coca Cola Santa. Pine trees were brought into houses and decorated with ornaments having more to do with sweet and cute than with Jesus. Mistletoe hung over doors, candles twinkled in windows, and Currier and Ives made a fortune with their prints of winter scenes--a far stretch from the birthplace in Bethlehem.
The complaints about the secularization of Christmas have a certain legitimacy. The celebration of a sacred birth has been usurped and turned into a holiday that bears no resemblance to the original intent. Shopping is a major proponent of the new Christmas. Drinking is right up there, too. It wouldn't be Christmas without the traditional overindulgence.
But I maintain that there are enough joyous moments, quiet moments, loving moments--in fact, memorable moments at Christmas to keep the holiday sacred (as in protected and defended) in the hearts of Christians and non-Christians alike. We love the lights and the music, the laughter of little kids, the connections with friends and family near and far away.
Let's face it; Christmas is prime time for cliches. Even the hardest hearts succumb to Christmas. (There is a reason Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is dragged out, re-read, or re-made year after year. We need to pretend the Scrooges will come around, if even for one day. )
I love the memories of candle-lit Midnight masses. I'm still thrilled by Christmas hymns; in fact, this old heathen's dream is to sit in the Mormon Tabernacle and listen up close and personal to the Tabernacle Choir singing "O Holy Night".
Besides family images, it's the quiet winter scenes that, oddly, remind us of Christmas. There is nothing religious about them, nothing having to do with the birth of a Messiah, but they stir feelings in us that we can't seem to do without this time of year.
I wish love and joy and wonder to all. I wish the weight of the world would come off the shoulders of those who are suffering, even today. I wish our memories would include them, even tomorrow. I wish this wasn't just wishful thinking.